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One third of all zombie movies ever produced have appeared in the fifteen years since 9/11. But, as Greg Garrett argues, we shouldn't be surprised by the persistence of stories and images of the walking dead in this era of End of Days obsession. Whenever humankind faces what it perceives as extinction-level events, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died in the trenches. They walked in art representing the Holocaust and the atomic attacks on Japan. And now, in the early twenty-first century, stories of the zombie apocalypse are pervasive narratives of post-9/11 Western culture, appearing in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and even in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Garrett shows, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can represent a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to mental illness. But paradoxically this narrative also offers human beings a chance to find emotional and spiritual comfort; these apocalyptic stories about individuals facing the imminent prospect of grisly death also offer us wisdom about living in community, present us with real-world ethical problems, and invite us into a conversation about what it means to survive.
Analyzing works of literature and culture from the Odyssey of Homer to World War Z, and material culture such as zombie runs to see what sorts of stories are being told about the walking dead, Garrett considers how such stories help us find meaning and purpose. Because we may indeed be walking with the walking dead, but through the stories we consume and games we play, we are also learning about life.
Greg Garrett is 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in fiction and screenwriting, literature, film and popular culture, and theology. The author or co-author of three dozen short stories, a dozen scholarly articles, and twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Dr. Garrett is also Residential Scholar at Gladstone's Library in Wales and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.